Azby Brown

Azby Brown reads from Edo book in San Francisco

My friend Azby Brown will be reading from his new book at four events in San Francisco next week. I highly recommend attending his book talk if you can. Azby is a great speaker, and an accomplished architect, writer, and designer based in Japan.

The book is Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan, and it portrays how Japan overcame environmental crises with sustainable farms and cities 200 years ago. The book is very informative about what we can learn today from the past, illustrated with hundreds of hand-drawn illustrations, and very engaging. I reviewed the book in the Huffington Post a few months ago.

Here’s the schedule for the book talks:

Monday, June 28, 7 p.m.
The Green Arcade
1680 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102-5949
(415) 431-6800
http://www.thegreenarcade.com

Tuesday, June 29, 5:30 reception/6 p.m. talk
The Commonwealth Club
The Commonwealth Club (The Gold Room)
595 Market Street
San Francisco
Telephone: (415) 597-6700
http://tickets.commonwealthclub.org

Wednesday, June 30, 6:30 p.m.
University of California, Berkeley
Rm 112, Wurster Hall (southeast corner of the Berkeley campus)
Title: “The Edo Approach to Sustainable Design”
Tel:(415) 317-0533

Thursday July 1, 12:00 noon
SF AIA
130 Sutter Street, Suite 600
San Francisco
(415) 362-7397
http://www.aiasf.org

Newsweek Japan に私の書評が出ました。「江戸時代に学ぶエコライフ」(日本語)

Newsweek Japan に私の書評が出ました。「江戸時代に学ぶエコライフ」

Newsweek Japan published in Japanese my book review of Azby Brown’s Just Enough. Please see my review in the Huffington Post for a (slightly longer) English version.

Treehouse Hideaway cafe in Harajuku

Last week I explored the back alleys of Harajuku with Azby Brown, director of the KIT Future Design Institute and author of Just Enough: Lessons in Green Living from Traditional Japan. Beneath the veneer of teen fashion and continual demolition and rebuilding, we saw a small remnant of a four hundred year old cemetery, vestiges of hills and streams, and walls and buildings from the time of World War II.

But nothing was more striking than this Treehouse Hideaway Cafe on the north side of Harajuku, towards Yoyogi. A funky stairway leads up to a second story, green building that wraps around an enormous pine tree. Further up the tree is an open air platform. The treehouse was created by Kobayashi Takashi (小林崇). Kobayashi has created treehouses all over Japan.

So much of Tokyo and other urban built structures eradicates the natural environment it occupies. It is very cool to see the structure built around this old tree, and to see something you might associate with the countryside in the heart of Tokyo’s trendy fashion district.

Here’s a map to find the cafe. On the day we toured Harajuku, a flash mob assembled because of a rumored appearance by teen band Hey! Say! Jump, injuring several teen fans. We were fortunate not to get caught in that).

Azby Brown’s book, Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan

I recently read Azby Brown’s book, Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan. Brown is an architect, professor, author, and expert on Japanese traditional and contemporary building design. This new book explores ecological principles of late Edo Japanese life (about 1800) and their relevance to sustainable living today.

The book mixes three levels of information: detailed descriptions of rural and urban life focused on farmers, carpenters and samurai; hundreds of amazing drawings of ecosystems, houses, tools and objects of everyday life; and finally reflections on how modern society might emulate a zero waste society that fed a population of 30 million including over a million living in Tokyo. By focusing on social structure, farming, transportation, forest management, urban planning, and domestic life, Brown explores how Japan was able to maintain the environment, including clean water, and avoid many of the diseases that plagued European cities of that time.

Brown provides a remarkable analysis of how natural resources were used by this growing population without harming the environment. Some notable examples include limiting forest extraction to fallen limbs and what can be carried on a person’s back, an irrigation system in which the resulting water was filtered and cleaned by rice fields, a transportation system that relied on human and water transport rather than animals, the role of courtyards as shared space for commoners, and samurais’ reliance on urban farms to make ends meet.

Viewed from today’s post-industrial times, it is remarkable to think that Edo Tokyo has a huge tree canopy and significant urban farming, and that zero waste included re-using night soil as fertilizer with a higher price for those of daimyo lords and for entertainers whose diets were richest. By carefully showing how Edo people lived, Brown is able to show how architectural elements like the endogawa porch can be used today as a way of connecting interior and exterior, residents and visitors. Modular and multi-purpose rooms are other features that would make living today both more efficient and comfortable.

My only criticism is Brown’s focus on the ethics of sustainability. I believe that pleasure and ecology must go together, so that making better choices is about improving life not about “doing good,” which is often a poor motivator. Brown does mention some of the coercive features of Edo life that would not be attractive today, such as infanticide as a population control method. For our times, I think the challenge is to both persuade people to embrace zero waste as a lifestyle improvement, and at the same time enact new policies that reflect the true costs of agro-industrial “cheap” food  and fossil fuel reliance built.

Current policies promote bad choices, including subsidizing corn sugar despite the health consequences, and hiding the true cost of fuel by externalizing the endless wars that guarantee our supplies, the free roads that encourage sprawl, and the pollution and climate change caused by emissions.

Brown’s book Just Enough will be thought-provoking for those interested in Japanese history and culture, and those engaged in a new global dialogue about a sustainable post-industrial future. His research, analysis and images provide new inspiration for a revitalized relationship between farms and cities, people and nature.